What is an Abscess?


If you have ever complained about having a simple toothache there is a good chance someone has encouraged you to go see a dentist before it becomes abscessed. This may have you wondering what exactly an abscess is and why are people so worried about it.  

An abscess is a painful dental emergency that can cause serious, potentially life-threatening problems if it is left untreated. We will take a closer look at dental abscesses so you can better understand what they are and why it is so important that you seek treatment for them.

What is an Abscess?

The singular term of “abscess” is used to define a tiny pocket of pus that has formed somewhere on the body. The pus that accumulates in the tiny pocket is usually the result of a bacterial infection that has gone untreated. Abscesses can happen almost anywhere on the body.

What is a Dental Abscess?

When the pocket of pus forms around the root of a tooth or the bone that supports a tooth it is called a dental abscess. A dental abscess is considered a dental emergency because if the infection is left untreated, it could get into the bloodstream and cause life-threatening medical problems.

A number of common dental problems can cause an abscess. Cavities, usually deep cavities, tooth decay, severe gum disease, and cracked teeth can all turn into an abscess. That is why it is so important to take care of these dental problems as it prevents them from becoming abscessed.

How to Tell If You Have a Dental Abscess

Several symptoms are often associated with dental abscesses. Common symptoms that occur if you have an abscessed tooth include:

  • Gums that appear bright red and are painful or tender to the touch
  • Moderate to severe toothache
  • Pain that radiates to the jaw or neck
  • Metallic or sour taste in the mouth
  • Pain that occurs when you chew or put pressure on the teeth
  • Fever
  • Swollen or tender lymph nodes
  • Tiny pimple-like bumps that formed on the gums
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Trouble breathing  

Sometimes abscesses can develop and you may experience no symptoms at all. An abscess that doesn’t cause you to experience any symptoms still needs to be treated.

How is an Abscess Diagnosed by a Dentist?

Typically, a dental abscess can be diagnosed just by looking at the symptoms you are experiencing and examining your teeth and gums.

If you aren’t experiencing any symptoms a dental abscess can still be diagnosed, you will just have to have an x-ray. This is why sometimes you will go to the dentist for a slight toothache only to be told after an x-ray that your tooth has become abscessed. You might not have the usual symptoms, but the x-ray showed the dentist the pocket of pus that has formed.

How is a Dental Abscess Treated?

The first thing your dentist will do when you have an abscess is determine how severe the infection is. If you have a severe infection or you have had an abscess for a while, you will probably be given antibiotics.

Antibiotics will help to get rid of the infection. Once the infection has been treated, you can proceed to get the cause of the abscess treated.

It is important to note that antibiotics while they will help you feel better and get rid of the infection, they won’t cure or get rid of the abscess. The only way to get rid of the abscess is to undergo a root canal or an extraction.

There are only two treatment options for abscessed teeth. The first treatment option is a root canal. A root canal is designed to try and save your natural tooth after it has become abscessed. Using specialized tools, your dentist will be able to clean out and disinfect the pulp of the tooth. Once it is cleaned and disinfected, the canals are resealed and the tooth is restored using a crown or filling.

The second treatment option is an extraction. Tooth extraction is used as a last resort and only performed when the tooth cannot be saved. Teeth often cannot be saved when decay or damage has caused their structure to become extremely unstable.

Think you have a dental abscess? Call Bonham Dental Arts to schedule an emergency dental appointment. Our dentist will not only determine if your tooth is abscessed, but will help you get it properly treated so you don’t experience any serious health problems.